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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — With Sen. Edward Kennedy battling a malignant brain cancer, admirers are showering accolades on the liberal lion for his decades of work in the U.S. Senate.
The Massachusetts Maritime Academy has announced it will rename its training ship The Kennedy in tribute to the Kennedy clan. Officials in Boston have unveiled a proposal to build a national institute focused on the U.S. Senate and Kennedy’s legacy. Kennedy has even won honors from the governments of Mexico and Chile.
The highest-profile event was to come Monday afternoon, with Harvard University set to bestow an honorary degree on the 76-year-old at a special convocation featuring remarks by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and a performance by cellist Yo Yo Ma.
Harvard says the honor recognizes Kennedy’s “lifelong commitment to public service and his tireless efforts as a champion for a range of social issues,” including health care, civil rights, labor, the environment and education. Others who have been honored with special convocations include Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.
Kennedy was originally scheduled to receive the degree at Harvard’s commencement last spring, but was recuperating from surgery.
Kennedy, who graduated from the school in 1954, said he was “enormously grateful” for the honor.
“Harvard holds a very special place in the hearts of all the members of the Kennedy family, and I look forward to accepting this honor,” Kennedy said Sunday.
Kennedy suffered a seizure in May and had brain surgery in June followed by chemotherapy. He recently braved cold, windy weather to attend the annual Harvard-Yale football game at Harvard Stadium.
He also addressed the Democratic National Convention in August and returned to the Senate in mid-November after initially planning to stay away until January. Kennedy, the second-longest serving member of the Senate, is laying the groundwork for a breakthrough on health care reform, a cause he has championed for decades.
He’s also enjoying a spate of honors.
In August, the nation’s oldest coed maritime college announced plans to rename its training ship from the T.S. Enterprise to The Kennedy.
The idea was initially proposed by U.S. Rep. William Delahunt to honor Kennedy, but later expanded to honor the entire family including late President John F. Kennedy, former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and eldest sibling Joseph Kennedy killed while on a secret WWII bombing mission
Days later local officials announced they were seeking up to $100 million for a national institute focused on the Senate and highlighting Kennedy’s contribution. The facility is to be located in Boston on a four-acre plot between the University of Massachusetts-Boston and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Plans call for replica of the Senate chamber, programs to train new senators and archives of famous Senate speeches.
Not all the honors are domestic.
In July, Mexico announced it would award Kennedy the Aguila Azteca, the highest honor the government can bestow on foreign dignitaries. The government praised Kennedy for denouncing injustices against migrants. Kennedy also co-sponsored an immigration reform bill.
And in September Chilean President Michelle Bachelet presented Kennedy with her country’s highest civilian award — the Order to the Merit of Chile — in recognition of his opposition to the country’s 1973 government overthrow and his work to cut off military aid to dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Steve Grossman, a Kennedy family friend and a former Democratic National Committee chairman, said Kennedy appreciates the awards, but is focused on his job and the country’s future — especially the need for comprehensive health care reform.
“There’s a natural desire to honor him for his decades of leadership, but any of us who have known him as long as we have know he’s hard at work,” Grossman said.